By Lee Davis
There were plenty of reasons why Hoover’s Dylan Smith should not have been playing in the state Class 7A basketball championship game on Feb. 28.
The first reason is that Smith, a senior, is a transfer from Mobile’s McGill-Toolen High School. If there’s no transfer, he is never at Hoover in the first place.
Secondly, despite their No. 5 rating and strong overall record, the Buccaneers were overlooked by the experts for most of the season.
And finally, basketball was not Smith’s favorite sport during his formative years.
“Up until the eighth grade, my favorite sports were baseball, football and basketball – in that order,” Smith said. “Then in ninth grade, I started to grow. I got to 6 feet, and then 6-4. Basketball became more of a priority.”
It’s a good thing for Smith – and Hoover – that it did. He was a key force in the Bucs’ surprising drive for the 2014-15 Class 7A title, climaxed by a 50-43 win over two-time defending champion Mountain Brook in the championship game.
Perhaps Smith’s best asset was his versatility. He could do whatever was required of him to bring Hoover a victory.
“Dylan is the ultimate competitor,” said Buccaneer coach Charles Burkett. “He could score from anywhere on the court and also defend any position. Dylan was always the focal point of our opponent’s defensive schemes, but he still got the job done.”
Smith made his one year at Hoover count from a statistical standpoint as well. He averaged 19 points, along with six rebounds and four assists per contest, as Hoover rolled to a 27-9 record. Smith also averaged two steals and one blocked shot.
Examples of Smith’s ability to do what was required came in the final three games of the season. In the Bucs’ 49-44 win over Sparkman in the Northwest Regionals at Wallace State-Hanceville, Smith connected on two three-point shots and blocked two of the Senators’ shots to help seal the victory.
His hot streak continued in the first game of the Class 7A Final Four at the BJCC, when Smith poured in 27 points as Hoover upset top-ranked Robert E. Lee of Montgomery 65-56.
Even on those rare nights when his shooting touch wasn’t working, Smith was a major contributor. In the championship game against Mountain Brook, he scored only four points but was an integral part of Hoover’s defense effort that held Mountain Brook to a mere 28 percent shooting percentage from the field.
“Our willingness to work hard and play good defense was a big reason we were able to win the state championship,” Smith said. “There were games when we would only shoot 30 percent that we won because we held the other team to only 20 percent. There are always going to be games where you don’t shoot well, but a team can always play good defense if it works hard enough.”
Burkett said statistics alone don’t tell the full story of Hoover’s championship run.
“Sometimes games aren’t about the numbers,” he said. “We have a lot of heart-and-soul kids on this team. What they contribute doesn’t always show up on the stats sheet, but they were the heartbeat of our team.”
Smith disagrees with those who considered Hoover’s rise to basketball’s blue trophy a surprise or an upset.
“Not that many people were talking about us before the season,” he said. “A lot of folks were talking about Spain Park or Mountain Brook or somebody else. They are all good teams, but we knew from the beginning that we had a chance to be the best.”
Smith also credits Burkett for his team’s success.
“Coach Burkett is such a great man and a great coach,” he said. “I enjoy just even hanging out with him. I’m really going to miss him next year.”
Exactly where Smith will be next season has yet to be determined. He verbally committed to the University of Texas-Pan American late last year but is still being actively recruited by a number of colleges. Certainly, helping direct Hoover to a state championship has helped his stock rise.
“I’m still weighing options for the future,” he said.
For now, Smith is still savoring the fruits of a state championship.
“It still hasn’t sunk in yet,” he said. “Sometimes I get the feeling that we have another game to play, and then I realize that hey, we’re the champs.”
Dylan Smith had only one year at Hoover, but he made it count all the way to championship glory.